Guest Post: Lean for Local Government – Pursuing Service Excellence


Mark's note: Thanks to all of the wonderful guest bloggers  who contributed to this space over the past two weeks. Today's post is by Richard Steel, the COO of Kaizen Institute New Zealand and  Mijo Katavic, lean & innovation manager at the Rotorua District Council.

By Richard Steel, with Mijo Katavic:

One of the recurring themes in these times of austerity, and pursuit of value for money sees central government trimming it's budgets. This is, of course, fostered by the multi party competition whenever the elections   loom. However, this time the seriousness of the current economic climate  means it's being pushed further afield, into Local Government.

Over the past 10 years, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of District Councils, Utiliities and Electricity as well as healthcare and   an assortment of ministries   and national government bodies, so I will claim to have some experience in this field, I thought others may be interested in my observations and learnings to date.

My first observation is that most of us misunderstand councils as just being a bunch of bureaucrats that take forever to make a decision and usually increase the rates to pay for their ideas. As we are all ratepayers, this seems to be completely unfair and it's just hiding gross inefficiencies!

Well, I made a pleasant discovery. Firstly, at the heart of every council employee is the passion to create a fantastic community for us to live in, and they really do hold our best   interests at heart.

Most local government employees live within their districts, so not only are they employees, but also ratepayers and thereby customers of their employer. They have to manage billions of dollars of assets, plus plan for the future in tens if not hundreds of years ahead!

They are also answerable to elected officials and navigate politics whilst doing it all with a smile and great attention to detail as what they say, do and spend is under intense scrutiny from everyone, including the media and the general public.

So, no wonder these guys are a little distracted on just getting the job done and sometimes are guilty of not being as efficient as they could be. The reality is that top down management systems are doomed to fail, whether it be in private sector or in government.

Mijo Katavic Business Improvement and Innovation Manager   at Rotorua Distrcit Council notes:

 “In response to the expanded use of technology, more particpatory governance, impending legislative reqirements, and organisational pressure to do more with less, local government is moving towards a more output orientated, customer focussed approach to service delievry, which in many respects follows the principles of Lean Thinking”.

Our experience of the last 10 months implementing Lean Thinking has shown that Local Governement employees are no different to their counterparts in the private sector, in that, when given the opportunity and authority to change processes to improve value to the customer, they thrive on the experience and ability to make a differnce in their daily work, and the service that their customer receives”.

“Equally, challenges around internal customers, defining who the customer is, loss of control from traditional management styles,   and breaking down of silos built around tradditional professional boundaries as opposed to Customer Value streams have provided some challenges around Lean Thinking implementation”.

For me, Lean for Government refers to applying Lean Thinking to identify and implement the most efficient way to provide government services. The widespread adoption of Kaizen enables them to better understand how their processes work, to quickly identify and implement improvements, and to build a culture of Continuous Improvement, everyday, everywhere, everybody.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Great post. This confirms a known truth that lean principles can be applied in both private and public (governmental sectors). The local government leaders in King County, the county governing Seattle and beyond, are also beginning a lean journey and so it is exciting to see application in the public sector growing!


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